Born without legs, Ali Jawad, 27, spent the first six months of his life in his parents’ home country of Lebanon before conflict with Israel prompted the family’s emigration to the UK. Though he was lifting competitively in 2008, illness prevented him from competing at Beijing and he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease soon afterwards. At London 2012, he was on the verge of winning the silver medal when a technical decision went against him. On appeal he was allowed to lift again, but his body went into spasm and he finished out of the medals.
A six-month slump followed, but he emerged renewed – winning world gold in 2014 and European gold in 2015. At Rio he will again face Egypt’s two-time Paralympic champion Sherif Othman, the Usain Bolt of powerlifting.
Ali Jawad at London 2012
You’ve had to cope with a lot of adversity.
“London was the worst. Crohn’s made even qualifying so difficult, but then when my lift was disallowed, that was very tough to take. There were times when I doubted I could come back again. But I didn’t want to retire on a negative note. I wanted it to be at the top. And nobody said it would be easy. You have to go through a lot to win a Paralympic medal.”
How do you deal with the Crohn’s?
“It’s a tough disease to manage when you’re competing at the top level. The excessive fatigue means I can’t push myself to the limit, and recovering from training becomes very hard. It also causes pain, and makes the ingestion of nutrients more difficult. I completely changed my diet in 2012 – no junk food, nothing spicy. I’m a normal person and I enjoy that stuff. My dream meal to celebrate a great win would be steak and chips with chocolate cake afterwards.”
What difference has Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage made?
“Before 2012 it was more difficult to ignite passion about Paralympic sport. Projecting the idea of us as superhumans – which we are – was a brilliant way to do it, and it stuck. It’s gone from disability to ability. We’re equal to the Olympians, which was what we wanted. We train as hard and sacrifice as much.”
What are your hopes for Rio?
“Gold may be out of reach, but a medal would mean everything, and let me put the London memory to bed so I can move on.”
Watch the powerlifting on Channel 4 at 7:30pm on Friday 9 September